AS WITH EVERY BOOK, this one too has its story. The idea for the volume originated in conversations in 2016–2017 between Radosław Kotecki and Carsten Selch Jensen during a joint project devoted to the role of the medieval clergy in warfare. These discussions, soon joined by Stephen Bennett and some other contributors to this volume, centred on concern for the research gap in the historiography of relationships between Christianity and war in the Middle Ages. At the time, we shared the conviction that studies on this issue predominantly focused on the West and the South of the European continent. Regions located more to the East and North, which converted to Christianity only around 1000 or even much later, were largely neglected. Being aware of both these deficiencies, and also the potential of the local sources and research circles, we decided to prepare a collection that would offer some fresh perspectives. The intention would also be to move away from perceiving these issues only through the prism of crusade ideology. The result is this volume, co-created by an international group of medievalists from Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Norway, Poland, and the United Kingdom. Ultimately, fifteen scholars contributed to the book. The structure of the team was, however, fluid. Several initial project members had to withdraw because of other commitments; however, their ideas also helped shape the outcome.
This volume owes a lot to several people, and the editors wish to thank everyone who has been involved in bringing it to fruition. Particular thanks go to the authors for timely submission of their chapters, and for their patience during the editing and production process. In particular, we wish to thank Jacek Maciejewski, whose counsel and help have proved invaluable throughout all stages of this project. Special thanks go to the anonymous peer reviewer, who approved the book's publication with Arc Humani-ties Press and Amsterdam University Press, and suggested valuable improvements. We would also like to thank Christian Raffensperger for his careful reading of the manuscript, and valuable comments, as well as for his acceptance of the book into the Beyond Medieval Europe series. Anna Henderson from Arc Humanities Press proved to be very helpful and supportive at every stage of its production and deserves fulsome praise.
THE PRESENT COLLECTION of chapters offers an original scholarly view on the issue of cultures of war in medieval East Central Europe and Scandinavia. The authors focus on questions that can be discussed simultaneously in the context of two phenomena: war (or more broadly, any military activity) and Christian religion and culture. The problems presented in this way are neither narrow nor homogeneous. This is unsurprising when a vibrant sphere of relationships between two such crucial cultural and culture-forming factors in the Middle Ages becomes the primary objective of a study.
While the subject of the volume is broadly profiled, presenting the issue in a multiperspective manner, the essays have been narrowed down geographically to East Central, North, and North-Eastern Europe. It is a region that has been sometimes referred to as the “Younger Europe” or “New Christianity” after Professor Jerzy Kłoczowski. It centres on vast territories that only, in most cases, formed their Christian identities after the tenth century. Chronologically, the present collection concentrates on the period from the late eleventh to the late thirteenth century with occasional glimpses into the earlier and later periods. However, the timeframe only partly corresponds to the epoch known in Western European scholarship as the High Middle Ages. Furthermore, focusing on the eleventh to thirteenth centuries is not to be considered as a further attempt at “adding,” “rethinking,” or “re-considering” the state of knowledge about the relationships of war and religion in the period often coined as the “classic medieval period,” “age of chivalry,” or “age of crusading” in the heartlands of medieval Europe. Instead the initiators of this volume felt the need to discuss the sparsely (though at the same time unequally) researched relationships between Christianity and war in the Eastern and North-Eastern parts of modern-day Europe. Moreover, to do so at the early stage of the influence of the new religion in these regions, distant as they were from the centres of Latin and Greek civilisations. Although Christianity had already begun to permeate these areas from at least the eighth century, its cultural impact became more pronounced in the regions only around 1000 or later.
Because other nations are in the habit of vaunting the fame of their achievements, and joy in recollecting their ancestors, Absalon, archbishop of Denmark, had always been fired with a passionate zeal to glorify our fatherland; he would not allow it to go without some noble document of this kind and, since everyone else refused the task, the work of compiling a history of the Danes was thrown upon me, the least of his entourage; his powerful insistence forced my weak intellect to embark on a project too huge for my abilities.
THIS OPENING QUOTE illustrates how Saxo Grammaticus presented his grand narrative on the deeds of the Danes—the Gesta Danorum—probably completed shortly after 1208. He had been given the task of compiling this history by the head of the Danish Church, Archbishop Absalon (in office 1178–1201) who himself became one of the leading characters in the latter part of the chronicle.
Gesta Danorum is, without doubt, the most famous text of the entire Danish medieval period, having influenced many later national narratives as well as intrigued professional historians for generations. In this chapter, the focus will be on the relationship between religion and war in the latter part of Saxo's Gesta Danorum. Here the chronicler recounts key events during the lifetimes of Absalon and his foster brother King Valdemar I (r. 1154–1182), when Valdemar became sole regent in 1157 following several years of internal turmoil and civil war. It is also a period in which the campaigns against the pagan Wends east of the river Elbe intensified, culminating in 1168 with the conquest of the main Wendic settlement of Arkona on the island of Rügen—an event that plays a very prominent role in Gesta Danorum. Following this, the chronicle covers the destruction of the other important pagan strongholds and the conquest of the remaining Wendic lands, at which point the focus turned further east towards the lands of the Estonians in the early 1170s. This prompted the beginning of nearly two hundred years of Danish continuous involvement in the northernmost Estonian provinces, which however lies outside the overall narrative frame of Saxo's work.
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